"Rejoice, Yehoshua, because you and Nenes, the butcher, will sit side by side in Paradise and your reward will be the same."
When Rabbi Yehoshua awoke he cried, "Woe is me! Even since childhood I have devoted myself to the service of HaShem, studied the Torah without end and illumined the minds of eighty disciples. Now see the reward I will be getting for all my good deeds! It seems I'm no better than Nenes, the butcher!"
He then sent for his disciples and said to them, "I will not enter the House of Study with you until I find Nenes the butcher and learn from him what it is that he has done to deserve being my companion in Paradise."
From town to town Rabbi Yehoshua went with his disciples in search of Nenes the butcher, but no one had ever heard of him. At last, after much wandering, they came to a village where Nenes lived. Rabbi Yehoshua then began to make inquiries about him.
"O learned Rabbi!" the townfolk asked him. "How is it that a man of your eminence should be asking after such an ignoramus and insignificant person?"
But Rabbi Yehoshua persisted: "Tell me what kind of man is he?"
"Don't ask us, Rabbi," they replied. "You'll see for yourself."
So they sent for the butcher, saying, "Rabbi Yehoshua is here and would like to see you."
Nenes was astonished.
"Who am I," he exclaimed, "that a great man like Rabbi Yehoshua should wish to see me? I'm afraid you've come to make sport of me! I will not go with you!"
Chagrined, the townfolk returned to Rabbi Yehoshua and said, "O Light of Yisra'el! Light of our eyes and crown of our head! why have you sent us to such a boor? He has refused to come with us."
"I will not go from here," cried Rabbi Yehoshua, "until I have seen Nenes, the butcher! In fact, I will go to him myself."
When the butcher caught sight of Rabbi Yehoshua he became frightened.
"O Crown of Yisra'el!" he exclaimed. "Why do you wish to see me?"
"I wish to put to you some questions," answered Rabbi Yehoshua. "Tell me, what good have you done in your life?"
"I am an ordinary butcher. I have a father and a mother who are old and weak. I've given up all my pleasures to attend to their needs. I wash and dress them and prepare their food with my own hands."
When Rabbi Yehoshua heard these words he bent down and kissed the butcher on the forhead, saying, "My son - blessed are you and blessed is your good fortune! How happy am I to have the distinction of being your companion in Paradise!"
- Adapted from the Midrash
- Art by Zvi Ribak